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9:28 PM on 10.08.2013

The Crusty King of Crime

So, having played Grand Theft Auto V, I've got to say I was left with mixed feelings. It's undeniably a well put together game with some excellent acting that sells the hell out of a patchy script, and it's got a lot of side activities to love. Yet I couldn't help feeling that in almost every respect, there's been a game in the past couple years that has surpassed some of its gameplay systems, and many of them are also sandbox games. I wouldn't be surprised if Grand Theft Auto 6 or 7 ended up playing second fiddle to one of these games.

Here's my breakdown of aspects where I feel GTA has been outclassed.

Open-World Scale: Just Cause 2

Much fuss has been made about GTA 5 being the biggest of Rockstar's games, but if you want to talk about pure size, Just Cause 2 utterly dwarfs it. While the case could be made that much of the landmass of Panau is empty forest, that same criticism could be laid at GTA V. There's a whole lot of open desert, hills, and mountainside in GTA V with nothing much going on. In that sense, it actually ended up feeling smaller to me than even GTA IV.

A Living World: Yakuza 4

While I appreciate that soda machines and telescopes are functional in GTA V, I couldn't help but feel like the world was just a giant movie set. If there was ever an unmarked building that could be entered, you could bet that it was part of a mission. Anything advertised on TV was unpurchaseable, the lottery was unplayable, phone numbers on billboards do nothing when called, and the casino's doors are basically painted walls. You can only go in maybe one out of every hundred shops. While Yakuza 4 has a much smaller world, it's also a much more detailed one. Restaurants have unique menus and interiors, arcades are full of playable games, convenience stores have browseable magazines, and the hostesses in the bars each have a large amount of unique dialog. There's just so much detail in the small things you might not even notice, like claw machines with about thirty different prizes and real world brands of alcohol with detailed explanations from the bartender. And those explanations will change subtly based on the bartender you order them from.

Collectibles: Batman: Arkham City

While collectibles in GTA often have the odd reward for completing the collection, tracking them down often feels like busywork. In Arkham City, locating a Riddler Trophy is the easy part; the hard part is figuring out how to get at it. Every trophy is a puzzle of some kind: a logic puzzle, a Metroidvania-esque item lock, or a riddle pointing to an object in the environment. In other words, it's a heck of a lot more fun than just stumbling around looking for a Maguffin.

Activities: Saint's Row 2

One big disappointment for me is that Grand Theft Auto has actually shed activities or removed the fun element from them (looking at you, taxi minigame). Saint's Row 2 on the other hand has continued, improved upon, and added to the activities you used to enjoy in Grand Theft Auto games. Taxi driving works like Crazy Taxi again, but with some odd curveballs like hijackers, customers requesting a smooth ride, or having to beat a rival taxi to a customer. That's to say nothing of its unique innovations like the Insurance Fraud minigame where you play hackey-sack with your body in traffic, Trail Blazing, where you race a flaming ATV between checkpoints while lighting things on fire to earn time, or Septic Avenger, where you man the hose on an AI-driven poo truck to spray shit everywhere. For reasons. And unlike recent GTA games, you'll actually get useful perks for reaching certain levels in these activities.

Combat: Sleeping Dogs

I didn't include Sleeping Dogs here just for its melee combat. If we were focusing solely on melee, I'd actually give the edge to Yakuza 4. I'm talking about both melee and ranged combat. While the guns aren't especially interesting, they do require actual skill to use as opposed to the lock-on fest that the recent GTA games have been balanced around. And when you shoot out an AI car's tire, it goes careening through the air. It never gets old. That's to say nothing of the fun in slamming a fool's head on a table saw, but it's kind of a moot point since melee isn't really a focus in GTA V.

Heists: Payday 2

I'm kind of cheating a bit here, but given how directed the heists in GTA V are, I feel like it's an apt comparison. I'll also confess to not having tried the co-op heists in GTA Online, because if there's another way that Payday 2 triumphs here, it's in having its online work at launch. That said, Payday 2's heists are a lot more involved in terms of what you're actually doing and the choices you have to make. At any moment, you could be managing hostages, barricading doors, healing teammates, calling out special enemies, grabbing loose loot from the environment, or setting up the equipment. And, of course, shooting messloads of cops. Ultimately, GTA V's heists are fun once. Payday 2's heists are fun many times.

Writing: Sleeping Dogs, Saint's Row 2, and Yakuza 4

I'm not even going to touch on GTA V's attempts at political humor, except to say that they're written by people with a very shallow understanding of the themes they use, and of American culture in general. The Daily Show this ain't.

But what upsets me more about the game is that the overarching plot is just a mess. Most missions are ultimately so inconsequential that they could have happened in any order with no impact on the plot. It felt a lot like Uncharted 3, which was a self-admitted Frankenstein's monster of setpieces stitched together with varying degrees of success. The narrative flaws were especially obvious during a train robbery mission, which comes completely out of left field and ends with the most blatant deus ex machina I've ever seen in a videogame.

Sleeping Dogs and Saints Row 2 both have a real sense of escalation to go along with the plot progression. In the former, you're rising through the ranks of a Triad and becoming more emotionally invested even as you work undercover to dismantle it, while in the latter, you're warring with rival gangs and often suffering the consequences of picking a fight with them.

Saint's Row 2 also shows how to do a villain protagonist well. I simply loathed Trevor Phillips. His arcs, and especially his introduction, felt like a slap in the face to fans of a certain previous GTA game and were about as tasteful and relateable as a Jeffrey Dahmer biopic with a laugh track. At least in Saint's Row 2, even when I was doing terrible things to people, they ultimately felt justified in some twisted way. And I never saw any cutely-titled goals for gold medalling a torture mission either.

While Yakuza 4 is a bit disjointed and nonsensical itself, it uses its multiple characters effectively to get different angles on the story, and their self-contained narratives ultimately fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The characters are also a lot more interesting than GTA V's. The cast includes a kindly loan shark with a unique brand of Social Darwinism, and a man who murdered 18 defenseless rival Yakuza for all the right reasons and hasn't stopped paying for it. To be sure, they're all crooks of various types, but you never end up hating yourself for progressing their stories.

In Closing

In spite of everything I've ragged on it for, I still think Grand Theft Auto V is a good game, if not a great one. What do you guys think? Am I being too harsh on GTA V? Did I leave any games out? Is Trevor Phillips the best character ever?   read

8:29 PM on 08.21.2013

Sir, You Are A Disappointment

I have mixed feelings about this whole Early Access business they've got on Steam. If you're not familiar with it, you're pretty much buying access to an alpha build a la early Minecraft. But one of the most recent games to go on Early Access has done more to set me against this business plan than any other, and it was a game I was eagerly anticipating to boot. That game, of course, was Sir, You Are Being Hunted.

Earlier today I played another game that pissed me off for similar reasons to SYABH. It was a $0.99 mobile game called Cubistry. Now Cubistry is a fun little game, basically Mahjongg Solitaire in three dimensions, but it did something I've not seen before. It's a paid game, and it's got ads in it. I was under the impression that this was a binary choice, either one or the other. Hell, free games with paid versions often remove ads to thank those that pay for them. I felt like I was being bled coming and going.

I can't help but draw a parallel between Cubistry and Big Robot's latest endeavor. See, these guys have already had a successful Kickstarter. They've already got their development funds, so why are they doing Early Access as well? And the Early Access isn't even a good deal; there's no discount for buying early. So you're paying full price for access to an admitted alpha build for ... well, for what exactly? To play the game early without the benefit of reviews or objective feedback?

Admittedly there has been feedback, but it's been neither objective, nor trustworthy. In addition to Big Robot, I'm now also disappointed in Rock, Paper, Shotgun for failing to address the warts in a warts-and-all build of the game. See, Jim Rossignol, Big Robot's founder, also writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Now to RPS's credit, they've disclosed that relationship numerous times in posts related to Sir, You Are Being Hunted, but I never expected it to affect their judgement of a game's faults. And believe me, Sir has plenty of faults that anyone considering the game should be aware of.

Let's start with the basic stuff, Z-fighting. It's a sort of flickering you get when two surfaces are in exactly the same place, so the computer isn't sure which to draw first and draws both at once. It's a newbie problem and it shouldn't be in anything commercially available, Early Access or no, given that it takes about a minute to fix. It especially shouldn't be on town signs in big, flickery letters where it couldn't have been missed during testing. I've been programming professionally in the same game engine as these guys for nigh on three years, and I knew how to fix it before then. It's laziness, pure and simple, to just leave Z-fighting in a Unity game.

This is your axe. It is the worst

Melee combat is another sticky spot. Enemies are immune to melee (and only melee) when backpedalling, even if you catch up to them, and they will backpedal immediately after being meleed. So meleeing an enemy to death takes about fifteen seconds to get your two hits in, meanwhile the other enemies will likely be alerted and shooting at you. And speaking of alerts, if I've put a sizeable tree between myself and a spotlight, that spotlight should [u]not[/u] see me.

I can't even trust the Options menu in this game. For whatever reason, Rossignol et al seem to be storing options settings in the save game file, rather than a separate settings file. This means that if you save your game, alter your settings, then die and have to load your game, your settings have been reverted. It's a little thing, but also something I've never seen before in any game. I think the last time I was that surprised by an oversight in design was when I saw the HUD in Triggerman clip into the scenery. It's never a good sign for a game when it reminds me, even tangentially, of Triggerman.

The Early Access disclaimer says some art assets are temporary. I really hope this one is

I could keep going into detail. I could talk about how "searching houses" just means that the front door works like a container. I could regale you with how ugly many of the 3d models are, especially against the backdrop of what appear to be standard Unity terrain assets. I could mention how the Maguffins you need to collect are so big that you can only ever really use 2/3 of your inventory space. But if I kept complaining about everything that disappointed me about this game, I'd be writing all night.

So, I'll just end with this. In my humble opinion as a professional-ish Unity programmer, Sir, You Are Being Hunted does not look like a year and a half of work, but four months at most. I don't know where their budget went, why they've pursued two different sources of crowdfunding, or why Rock, Paper, Shotgun writer Tim Stone (not a Big Robot employee) failed to point out this game's problems in his latest writeup. What I can tell you is that in my opinion, the game is not worth $20 now, nor will it be when released. I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong about this game but I can't, in good conscience, do anything but condemn it at this juncture. By all means, follow along with the game's coverage and its ultimate reviews, but be especially wary of coverage from Rock, Paper, Shotgun.   read

9:32 PM on 12.01.2012

Rejected Bioshock Infinite box art

If you've been paying attention, you'll know there's been some hullabaloo over the past day or so regarding Bioshock Infinite's box art. Now I don't often advertise this fact, but I did, in fact go to school for game design, and as such, I know some people who went on to some big name studios. One such contact is “Bill”, an Irrational concept artist who wishes to remain anonymous. He recently sent me an email with some rejected box art attached, and I've got to say, it's made me much more sympathetic to Irrational's decision on the packaging. Simply put; it was the best of a very bad lot. Read on for my thoughts on them individually.

I should clarify that not all of this box art was done recently. Some, like the cover above, were done before the style guide for the game was finalized. Initially, co-op was thrown around as a possibility, as was a modern time period. But ultimately, the premise of the Columbia resurfacing after over a century and black FBI agents crossdressing in whiteface was rejected. As Ken Levine allegedly put it, “It simply stretches the limits of plausibility too far. Now how's that magic robot-bird coming along? I'm Ken Levine!”

This minimalist designed shortly after one of the artists read Twilight. The artist in question argued that a simple image on a black background would stick with people. Ultimately the design was shelved after no one could decide what the tie was supposed to represent.

Another design from earlier in development. Enemies were initially designed to be more akin to Splicers from Bioshock; feral, wearing cobbled together clothing, and disturbingly inhuman. It was also during this time that FMV was proposed as a way to reduce cutscene costs. However, preliminary results with greenscreens were disappointing and ultimately, filming was discontinued. No definitive reason was ever given, but rumor has it that Ken Levine was sexually harassing the lead antagonist, shown here.

This one comes to us from the same artist as the gray tie, someone Bill referred to as That Dumbass. Not much to say about it that can't be said about That's previous work; it's memorable and certainly does stick in your head, but it's far too unrelated to the game to warrant gracing a cover.

This is by far the strangest of the lot. No one knows who created it, how they created it, or even how they got into the building undetected. It was just found hanging from a noose one morning in the studio foyer, housed within a poorly sealed envelope dripping Monster Energy as well as some less pleasant fluids that Bill has repeatedly refused to describe. Also contained within the envelope were poorly-made sketches that caused some who looked upon them to vomit and/or faint. Furthermore, there was a list of requested plot changes written in alternating colors of crayon in smudged, childlike handwriting on a heavily stained piece of paper made out of Post-It notes woven together. Bill again refused to elaborate on what exactly the plot changes were, though he did say they were "sexual in nature, I think".

After the initial revulsion had finally worn off, the artists decided that the background and general layout of the box art were better than anything they had. After putting the greasy picture through the scanner (which, I'm told, had to attend therapy) and touching it up, Irrational arrived at the controversial final design.

Ultimately, I have more pity for Irrational than hatred. They just couldn't, for the life of them, arrive at a satisfactory cover and ended up relying on the second hand scrawlings of a deranged mind, only to have it be universally derided. Coincidentally, I understand that the Boston police still have no idea how the lunatic in question got in, or who keeps firing a crossbow into the break room. Still, the game looks pretty good, doesn't it?

If anyone else here has friends at Irrational, see if they can't leak you some box art, then post it in the comments below.   read

12:26 AM on 01.31.2012

Improvement: Going Global with Monster Hunter

Capcom's handling of the Monster Hunter series baffles the complete and ever loving hell out of me. Not the game itself mind you, the core game has proven itself solid and needs very little tweaking. However, almost everything about Monster Hunter that isn't actually part of the core game has needed fixing since its first installment. Confused? Read on.

For those of you who don't know, Monster Hunter is Capcom's hottest game in Japan. The series revolves around steampunk cavemen slaughtering wyverns with visually impressive weapons what are made out other wyverns. Which is simultaneously the most fucked up and rad thing ever. However, ask someone who hasn't played the game and odds are that they only know it as "that dumb game that's really popular in Japan."

Now while said theoretical person is wrong (fact), their idea of the game isn't entirely their own fault. While Capcom has tried to push the game overseas in the past, they always seem to go about it the entirely wrong way. The game has been rendered almost completely inaccessible to those who would enjoy it the most thanks to poor console choice, horrible tutorials, systems that aren't properly explained, crappy drop rates, and marketing that has either been nonexistent or has failed to deliver.

Whew, OK, let's look at each of those elements individually. Most of this applies to any Monster Hunter game, but I've played Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii the most, so I'm using that as a reference.


Monster Hunter Tri was published exclusively for the Nintendo Wii, following previous installments on PSP. Unlike those portable entries, the Wii version relied on an online community rather than local co-op for players to team up. Sounds good so far, but anyone here who's tried to play a Wii game online already knows the problem.

The Wii is simply the worst of the big three home consoles to do online on. At the time of its release, the only supported mic was the Wii Speak, which doesn't work on a good day, but in this case was further rendered useless by the fact that you needed to be friends with someone to hear them. Most players got around the communication issue (and communication is key in these games) by using USB keyboards (and in my case a USB extension cord as well).

OK, great, problem kind of solved, right?

Nope! The text entry fields were ridiculously small as they'd been designed for Japanese text. To get out a full sentence, you'd have to enter two or three separate bite-sized lines. During which you could be easily interrupted by someone else. And let's not forget the fact that communication is most valuable in the heat of battle, when you can easily get killed in two or three good hits from a Rathalos or whatever. Makes taking your hands off the controller to type a bit of a problem.

Port the series to the PS3 or XBOX360. This is a cooperative hardcore game, and those two consoles make more sense than any others. It's just where the audience is in the West and there sure as shit isn't a barrier to using a mic. I'd go so far as to say that Capcom's utter refusal to publish on these two systems is the number one barrier to entry for the series, and it needs to be the first thing resolved for a successful sequel.


While some consider Call of Duty's recent ads demeaning to soldiers as they trivialize war, it must be said that they are accurate. That is to say, that while the ads feature real life actors, what they depict is how the game actually plays. The tone, the actions depicted, everything sans racial slurs is in there.

This is one of the commercials that ran for Monster Hunter Tri.

Now tell me, what exactly did this tell you about the game? Keep in mind that this was Capcom's big push to introduce the game to the US. If you knew nothing about the series, what would this tell you?

Deadliest Catch and a Capital One Visigoth? Yeah, that shit sure tells me a lot about a completely alien game. And what's with the happy-go-lucky tone? Monster Hunter has its cheery moments, but at its core, it's an intense life-or-death battle against massive things that spit lightning at you. Then you turn their corpses into weapons that spit lightning back. To be fair, they snuck a little gameplay footage in there, but it's less than 15 seconds out of a nearly 90 second commercial.

Gameplay clips and cutscenes intercut with review scores. It's simple, effective, doesn't involve a set or actors, and there's more than enough material to work with thanks to Monster Hunter's gorgeous cinematics. Games do this all the time because it fucking works. Don't believe me? Look at this commercial for Dark Souls. Could use a bit more gameplay but it throws down a gauntlet for the player and establishes the tone quite well.

Also, that song kicks ass.


Tri and its predecessors had pages of text explaining completely original systems like armor "skills" (actually they're perks), proper weapon usage, and a dual mode control system that remaps most of the buttons when your weapon is drawn. Again, nothing is inherently wrong with these systems; even the controls make sense once you learn them, but there is simply no way to learn ingame that isn't tedious. Further compounding matters is a user interface that looks like it was programmed on a typewriter.

It's my theory that most of this was remedied in Japan because Monster Hunter fans there were groomed by co-op on the PSP installments. It's a hell of a lot easier to have a person there that can answer questions instead of reading an in-game textbook. By the time Tri came out, most Japanese consumers who bought it had already learned how to play, so the poor tutorials really didn't hurt them. I, on the other hand, despite having played a bit of MH Freedom Unite on the PSP, was still clueless on a number of systems. Were it not for a lovely gentleman on Youtube who goes by SocialDissonance, I'd still be nerfing my own Greatsword charge attacks without even noticing it (and yes, it's an easy mistake).

This is probably the trickiest thing an ideal sequel to Monster Hunter would have to do. It would need to slowly introduce elements to the player between or during interesting missions. Tri came closer than previous entries, but relatively little is revealed in its boring and monsterless tutorial missions. Twisting the player's arm to understand all this information might be unavoidable, but Capcom has proved itself a master tutorial crafter in the past, and I'm sure it could rise to the challenge if it tried.


There is a 2% drop rate for Rathalos Plates. 2%! Now I realize that the math states that I should finally get this one drop sometime soon, but after over 40 dedicated Rathalos hunts I still have yet to. And yes, I looked on the wiki, and I'm giving myself every opportunity to get one.

Look Capcom, I realize that you have to encourage a certain amount of grinding, but if you give probability tiny, single digit numbers to work with, it will fuck over your players to the point of spasm-inducing frustration. There's no worse feeling in the world than the successful capture of a monster and not getting the one thing you need. It feels like you just wasted half an hour of your life for nothing. 2% drop rates are what made me put down Tri, and what's worse is that some of the upper tier drops are 1%.

This is one I've thought about a lot during my frustration with Tri. My best solution: a token system for selecting monster parts on top of a few random drops. Think of it like the prize exchange at a Chuck E. Cheese's. Depending on how well you do, you can redeem your supply of tickets for a number of items. Rathalos Scales would be like the crappy army men and the Plates would be an RC car or whatever. To lower the price on or make available certain monster viscera, you'd have to break parts of the monster's body or complete specific subquests. I should point out to those who aren't familiar with the series that these two systems are already in place and are used to determine existing random drops.

So you've got a mix of old and new elements: three or so random drops as well as tokens you can put towards specific ones. And hell, if you don't like the new system, you could also put your tokens towards more random drops instead. The point is that a hunt never feels like a waste as so many Rathalos hunts did for me.

Shit They Just Don't Tell You

Oh! I have to break both horns!

This is pretty self explanatory. Lots of information, mostly regarding monster weaknesses, drop rates, and requirements for specific drops is completely hidden from the player. Now, when I want to know how to get a monster part that I haven't seen dropped after several attempts, I'm going to look it up one way or the other. Were it not for the Unofficial Monster Hunter Wiki, I would have given up on the game. It wouldn't surprise me if this information was intentionally left out just to sell strategy guides.

For those of you paying attention, this was the second time I had to turn to the internet for help to get critical information.

Just make the stuff available ingame somewhere. Maybe in the briefing before a hunt or make the players buy the information. Give 'em something to spend their money on! In fact, there was a similar system in place for Unite, though the information you bought was pretty vague and generally useless.

Wow, that was longer than intended
So that's it. That's what needs to change about Monster Hunter. Capcom's got a truly original and fun game on their hands, but they just don't know how to make it accessible or popular. And I'm not terribly optimistic that these kinds of drastic changes will be implemented anytime soon as long as Capcom keeps raking in the yen (Call of Duty Sydrome).

Now, if Capcom ever wants to make dollars, maybe it will consider changing things in Monster Hunter. In fact, I've heard that Monster Hunter 4 is debuting on a completely different platform from previous installments.

Well, fuck. Monster Hunter 5 maybe?   read

9:36 PM on 11.02.2011

Case 4 Thing - Playable Downtime

Case 4 Thing is a when-I-feel-like-it analysis/promotion of game mechanics I never hear talked about

"Pitch the damn thing kid! I've got to rescue a hostage in an hour."

I don't like Uncharted 2. Its mechanics are solid, the storyline's enjoyable if predictable, and the characters are well written. But towards the end of the campaign, I put the game down and never picked it back up. I've also forgotten most of it since then. And it's because Uncharted 2 failed in a way that many action games do: it never really changed things up.

You may disagree with this statement, but give me a moment. It isn't enough to change the setting if the mechanics don't change as well. Visual flair is a great thing to have in a game, but it adds very little when the gameplay doesn't change along with it. In Uncharted 2, you'll explore Nepalese ruins, a city in the middle of a civil war, a jungle, and a train, and they're almost all identical in terms of structure. Yes, there are guerrillas duking it out with the mercs in the city. Yes, the ruins will crumble from time to time. Yes, the train will sway and occasionally give you free shots at enemies, but how I'm fighting never really changes.

One sequence that did change things up was hobbling through the streets with Jeff on your shoulder. In addition to the constrained movement, you couldn't take cover, were limited to pistols, and shooting became much more twitch as a result. Another is towards the end when you have to fight acrobatic humanoid monsters on the run, primarily with a crossbow. Both instances broke up the "wait behind cover", "fire machine gun", "duck into cover" slog that the rest of the combat was, and both did it with very subtle tweaks.

"Who ordered a blue ninja Locust?"

Now, I'm sure Naughty Dog was aware of how gameplay needs to be changed up, hence all the platforming and the occasional square-peg puzzle. But they failed to realize how those sequences can become stale as well without enough variety within them as well. Keeping the game interesting is more than just alternating shooting and climbing. Where were the wall traps, the moving platforms, the dummy flooring, and the blades of death that made Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia so fun from start to finish?

However, what's really unfortunate here is that Uncharted 2 could have been such a better game in terms of pacing had it broken up combat with something other than jumping or slightly different combat. It wouldn't have needed any more stages or enemies to shoot, just something else on the side between stages. My suggestion? Poker.

"Now Bomber", you may be asking your computer screen because you're a crazy person, "I can easily see Nathan Drake as a card shark. But why would I want to be playing cards instead of shooting people?" The answer isn't obvious to you now, but it would make much more sense had you just played two hours of Uncharted. The reason is that it isn't shooting people. It's not car chases or death-defying leaps or any of the other gradually diminishing adrenaline rushes you've been binging on for the past two hours. Rather, it's a totally peaceful activity you can use as a palate cleanser from action fatigue. It needn't be deep or particularly rewarding, aside from Drake maybe gloating or whining about how the game went, but it's something else, something unexpected even, and the next shooty bits would go down a lot easier.

See, Uncharted's biggest problem is that it never stops being oppressively intense; it's wired like a cheetah on cocaine. And as a result, the player's appreciation of the intensity continually diminishes. Think about how many vehicles Nathan Drake has gotten into in his games. Now think about the ones that didn't get blown up. By which I mean none of them. If Nathan Drake gets in a car, that car is predestined to explode in the next ten minutes because exploding cars are exciting and unexpected, right? Normally true, but diminished somewhat if you can still smell the burning carcass of the last one. Here's hoping Drake never gets on anything organic.

This fabulous chart is a rendition of the ideal dramatic structure. You see this in a lot of music too. It's why singers stop singing so the drummer can have a solo, or why the camera goes away from Luke Skywalker and focuses on C-3PO for some comedic asides. Action, or more generally intensity, must be broken up by something to change the mood so the audience doesn't get bored. This is why, instead of every frame being a blaze of gun/laser fire, Chewbacca plays space chess, Indiana Jones drinks with Marcus Brody, and Artyom wanders around a subway station turned settlement. Speaking of which, let's look at Metro 2033 for a second shall we?

In Metro 2033, stages are broken up by towns. Now, these aren't your typical videogame towns. There aren't quests in the traditional sense, although you can play good Samaritan and give money to the needy. But aside from that and a very limited shop, they're mostly just full of NPCs milling around. Really the only thing to do is explore and poke around for the odd free bullet, but it still manages to be engaging, and the melancholy it provides makes going into another action stage seem exciting again.

Now, compare that to Uncharted 2, where there was almost no downtime whatsoever. Rarely is a break in the action is done outside cutscene, and even in them, the calm never lasts for long. The best thing Uncharted 2 did in terms of a break was the ability to walk around a Nepalese village for a few minutes. There's not much point and you're hounded by your guide to keep moving, but it's a nice aside. Granted, since Drake's cursed presence has graced it, the only uncertainty will be if you'll come back to find it completely destroyed or partially destroyed. You didn't think Naughty Dog would make a level without loads of bullets and explosions, did you?

But one thing has gotten me hopeful. See, there's a clip, apparently of gameplay, of Drake doing something non-physical for a few seconds. It breaks changes the mood wonderfully, and I can't help but hope there will be more of these moments in the game. Here's hoping this is Naughty Dog's mea culpa.

Enjoy.   read

10:44 PM on 10.31.2011

LOOM - Scariest videogame moment of all time

WARNING: Following post is long, contains many pictures, and is kind of depressing and personal

As a child, around eight years old, I watched two people close to me die slow deaths due to cancer. One was my grandfather. The other was a neighborhood girl still in high school. I was just old enough to understand their deaths, human mortality, and that no one could tell me for certain what happens to us when we die. The experiences were pretty traumatic and I'd lie awake countless nights with nihilistic philosophies swirling in my head. I was haunted by the spectre of death so badly that I would become physically cold at night, when I would have nothing to distract me from my thoughts.

So why bring up something so personal? Because that's what true fear is. It isn't a quick jump scare like you'll find in Resident Evil or Dead Space, it's a lurking presence that haunts you. And it's especially terrible when guilt is thrown into the mix.

One of the places I found solace from those thoughts was the mental oblivion of video games. If nothing else, they were a place to forget; to occupy my brain during my free time. Some of the first video games I owned were a 5-pack of LucasArts adventure games. It instilled in me a lasting love for the genre, and it included the game that this whole lead-in has been building towards.

LOOM was created during the golden age of adventure gaming and it turned convention on its head. Rather than collecting items, you were discovering spells in the form of music sequences (predating Ocarina of Time). And while the game's setting was fantasy, it was a weird, dreamlike sort of fantasy all its own. But while it was strange and ethereal, it also wasn't explicitly a horror game. And that's what makes the following sequence all the more shocking.

Needless to say: Spoiler Alert!

At a certain point, I (as protagonist Bobbin Threadbare) had to infiltrate the Guild of Blacksmiths. In order to do so, I had to covertly swap appearances with a friendly, if uncooperative apprentice named Rusty napping outside the gates. Unfortunately, while trapped inside the fortresslike Forge, a recently-made enemy happened upon the apprentice now wearing my clothes. Some offscreen carnage, and then this.

Yep, the dragon that was chasing me killed Rusty, and not in a pretty way. You can see his skeleton reaching out in pain and still dripping blood. That's because the dragon ate him alive. He died because of me.

Now, keep in mind, this game was made in 1990 before the ESRB existed. And the game probably would have been too difficult for me to progress that far had the 5-pack not included a strategy guide. Still, putting this into the game was almost cruel.

After further screwing up by inadvertently providing a mad warlock the keys to the universe only for him to unleash armageddon, I finally broke out of the Forge. Only to find this waiting for me outside the gates.

Rusty is now a ghost angrily seeking revenge. Revenge that, incidentally, he totally deserves. My thoughtless use of Weaver magic had not only doomed the world, but it had resulted in a child being eaten alive by a dragon. I was a murderer and I had turned a quiet apprentice into a monster.

Few things put real fear into me. Jump scares are nothing but cheap surprise sprinkled with terror. But this is the stuff Edgar Allan Poe's nightmares are made of. It made me feel cold physically the way only personal tragedy could. If that isn't an accomplishment in horror, I don't know what is. Maybe LOOM wasn't the best place for this scene, but maybe it was the unexpectedness that made it so effective. I don't have an answer for that one.

I'm not going to spoil any more of this excellent adventure game. If you want resolution to this plot point, you can find it yourself.

LOOM is on Steam for $5.
Happy Halloween.   read

6:59 PM on 05.14.2011

Call of Duty: Assault Rifle Warfare

The AK-47. The M-16. The G3. These weapons are all assault rifles and you know exactly what they are because they're what you use in a CoD game. I can count on one hand the number of people I've seen using submachine guns, shotguns, and light machine guns in CoD games because let's face it, those guns have drawbacks. But assault rifles do not. Assault rifles are accurate at a distance and fully automatic up close; they are literally the Swiss Army Gun. That's why they're the default in modern wars. And that's why they break games.

CoD's biggest sin is that they've made giving you a gun with no downside seem normal. You don't have to worry about distance too much and when a dude rushes you, you just hold down the trigger and pray you have bullets left. The point is, there's very little strategy involved. When you give the player a gun that you don't have to strategize around, then you've failed as a game. It's effectively a debug weapon.

And the balance of these guns has hurt gamers as much as it has the industry. It's made us lazy in online games. We don't want to work for kills, we want to get them as soon as we see a guy. None of this "leading your shots" business, no getting in range or keeping distance, just unload on the fool and watch him drop in less than a second. Now granted, this probably was what helped spur the development of perks for CoD4 in order to diversify things, and I'm not saying that wasn't a step forward. But the fact of the matter is that if you take out perks, killstreaks, and persistent upgrades and levelling, then CoD becomes a boring game, a game that can't stand on the merit of it's basic gameplay, but on the layered metagame surrounding it.

Recently, I read Jeff Gerstmann's review of Brink, and one thing jumped out at me. While he had a lot of valid points, one of his complaints was that enemy players "took too many shots to kill." In other words, they weren't going down in under ten bullets. The fact that a man of integrity like Jeff Gerstmann could make such a fratboyish argument shows how much our perspective on first person shooters has become distorted. In our collective consciousness, the wide variety of first person shooters has been encapsulated by a subgenre - the brown modern warfare game. It's not hard to see why; reviewers keep scoring them high and we keep buying them despite a lack of innovation.

At some point, we'll need to say "Enough!" and start looking down on games that just maintain the same cookie cutter formula. But until that time comes, thank God for games that take a chance and try something new. Thank God for Brink. Thank God for Painkiller. Thank God for Monday Night Combat. And really thank God for Team Fortress 2.

Oh, and if you really want to show your appreciation, try actually fucking buying them!   read

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